Thursday, 22 April 2010

JOHN KEATS - DOOMED ROMANTIC.


John Keats (31st October 1795 - 23rd Feb 1821 ) was born in London to a barman, a sad tale indeed. He was orphaned early, death loomed large around him, but within his short life of 25 years he developed such thought , art and vision! From his first musings to his last, his vision of experience was continuous and boy did he share this.
At just 14 he was apprenticed to a surgeon in Moorfields, and at 19 was registered as a medical student at Guy's hospital London ( now known as King's College ).
He soon abandoned his chosen profession in order to live for and by his poetry.He was influenced by Spencer, Milton, Dryden and William Skespeare and owed particular debt to Byron and Wordsworth.
He encountered much snobbery during his lifetime, the tory press of the time chose to vilify and patronize him as merely a cockney poet. Yet today he is praised as one of the greatest poets to live.
In his short life he followed passion and held dearly to the concept of friendship. He knew love too, in 1818 he first met a lady called Frances ( Fanny) Brawne and an intimacy and a love developed between them. She herself only 18, Keats lent her books and they would walk and read together. It was to her that he gave the love sonnet - Bright Star, also around this time he met another woman who he also held conflicting emotions, a beautiful lady called Isabella Jones, unfortunately for the young poet he was prone to melancholy and severe depression and his relationships with both were broken due to his illnesses.
Sadly consumption was also in his family, and it gained on him, and what with his knowledge of medicine, it heralded a new feeling for him of doom.He became haunted by the apprehension of death before he had " garnered this teeming brain ".
Primitive medicine of the time actually " bled " him and so hastened his death.
Who knows where his writing would have developed had he lived longer, his words were already pretty well formed , and perhaps perfection of vision was yet to emerge.
Before his death he travelled to Rome, Italy with his friend Joseph Severn, he knew he was dying and was in much pain, apparently he demanded Laudenum to numb it but for some reason the people around him refused to give him any, prolonging his agony and suffering. He was buried in the Protestant Cemetary, Rome, his last request was to be buried under a tombstone, without his name,
his epitaph read

This Grave
contains all that was Mortal,
of a
Young English Poet,
Who,
on his Death Bed, in the Bitterness of his heart,
at the Malicious Power of his Enemies,
Desired
these words to be engraven on his Tomb Stone:
Here lies One
Whose Name was writ in Water.

Unlike his contempraries he did not follow any causes, only the cause of perfection of sensation, tone and form, and had I feel a peculiar genius of making perfect pictures. Yet if we were to put him on any side , it was on the side his contempararies stood, on the the side of sedition, rebellion and freedom.
For some people they look at his poems and his life and they see him as over sensitive, sensuous and simplistic, with far too much rawness, but what we must remember is that his urge to deliver was due to his knowledge of his impending death ,which saw him effectively producing a lifetimes work in only two years. He was then a poet of immediacy, he did not have time for revisions and rewrites, he simply had to get it all down. This is why I think some of his works seem simple, he followed his muse and saw poetry like he saw medicine as a way of healing.
For me he was a poet of stillness, an absorbed dreamer and weaver of spells. Unlike some poets, I read him today with calm and aquviessence and with many pauses to savour. He sought out the primal things of nature, that was his urge. For some reason contemporaries at the time did not really understand him. Luckily we do now, his words frozen, immortal. His strong and inquiring mind still engaging us today. What follows are a selection of his shorter verses that appeal greatly to me.

BRIGHT STAR

Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art -
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like Nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors-
No - yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillo'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever - or else swoon to death.

ODE ON MELANCHOLY

No, no, go not to Lethe, neither twist
Wolf's-bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine;
Nor suffer thy pale forehead to be kiss'd
By nightshade, ruby grape of Prosperine;
Make not your rosary of yew-berries,
Nor let the beetle, nor the death-moth be
Your mournful Psyche, nor the downy owl
A partner in your sorrow's mysteries;
For dhade to shade will come too drowsily,
And drown the wakeful anquish of the soul.

But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
Or on the wealth of globed peonies;
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
Empirison her soft hand, and let her rave,
And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.

She dwells with Beauty-Beauty that must die;
And joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
Ay, in the very temple of Delight
Veil'd Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tonque
Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine;
His soul shall taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.

ON FAME
"you cannot eat your cake and have it too." PROVERB

How fever'd is that Man who cannot look
Upon his mortal days with temerate blood,
Who vexes all the leaves of his Life's book
And robs his fair name of its maidenhood;
It is as if the rose should pluck herself
Or the ripe plum finger its misty bloom;
As if a clear Lake meddling with itself
Should cloud its pureness with a muddy gloom.
But the rose leaves herself upon the Briar
For winds to kiss and grateful Bees to feed
And the ripe plum still wears its dim attire-
The undisturbed Lake has crystal space-
Why then should Man teasing the world for grace
Spoil his salvation by a fierce miscreed?

SONNET TO SLEEP

O soft embalmer of the still midnight,
Shutting with careful fingers and benign
Our gloom-pleas'd eyes, embower'd from the light,
Enshaded in forgetfuness divine:
O soothest sleep! if so it please thee, close
In midst of this thine hymn my willing eyes,
Or wait the Amen ere thy poppy throws
Around my bed its lulling charities.
Then save me or the passed day will shine
Upon my pillow breeding many woes:
Save me from curious conscience that still hoards
Its strength for darkness, burrowing like the mole;
Turn the Key deftly in the oiled wards
And seal the hushed Casket of my soul-

PENSIVE THEY SIT, AND ROLL THEIR LANQUID EYES'

Pensive they sit, and roll teir lanquid eyes
Nibble their tosts, and cool their tea with sighs,
Or else forget the purpose of the night
Forget their tea-forget their appetite.
See with cross'd arms they sit-ah hapless crew
The fire is going out, and no one rings
For coals, and therefore no coals Betty brings.
A fly is the milk pot - must die
Circled by humane society ?
No no there Mr. Werter takes his spoon
Inverts it-dips the handle and lo, soon
The little struggler sav'd from perils dark
Across the teaboard draws a long wet mark
Romeo! Arise! take Snuffers by the handle
There's a large Cauliflower in each candle.
A winding-sheet- Ah me ! I must away
To No. 7 just beyond the Circus gay.
Where may your Taylor live?-I say again
I cannot tell. Let me no more be teas'd-
He lives in Wapping might live where he pleas'd.'

THE HUMAN SEASONS

Four seasons fill the measure of the year;
There are four seasons in the mind of man:
He has his lusty Spring, when fancies clear
Takes in all beauty with an easy span:
He has his Summer, when luxuriously
Spring's honied cud of youthful thought he loves
To ruminate, and by such dreaming nigh
His nearesr unto heaven: quiet coves
His soul has in its Autumn, when his wings
He furleth close; contented so to look
On mists in idleness-to let fair things
Pass by unheeded as a threshold brook.
He has his Winter too of pale misfeature,
Or else he would forget his mortal nature.

WHEN I HAVE FEARS THAT I MAY CEASE TO BE

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high Brooks in charactery
Hold like rich garners the full ripe'd grain-
When I behold upon the night's starr'd face
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And feel that I may never live to trace
Their shadows with the magic hand of Chance:
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more
Never have relish in the fairy power
Of unreflecting Love: then on the Shore
Of the wide world I stand alone and think
Till Love and Fame to Nothingness do sink.-

ON THE SEA
It keeps eternal whisperings around
Desolate shores,-and with its mighty swell
Gluts twice ten thousand caverns,-till the spell
Of Hecate leaves them their old shadowy sound.
Often 'tis in such gentle temper found,
That scarcely will the very smallest shell
Be lightly moved, from where it sometime fell,
When last the winds of heaven were unbound.
Ye, that have your eye-balls vex'd and tired,
Feast them upon the wideness of the sea;-
Or are your hearts disturb'd with uproar rude,
Or fed too much with cloying melody,-
Sit ye near some old caver's mouth and brood
Until ye start, as if the sea nymphs quired.

WRITTEN IN DISGUST OF VULGAR SUPERSTITION
The Church bell toll a melancholy round,
Calling the people to some other prayers,
Some other gloominess, more dreadful cares,
More heark'ning to the Sermon's horrid sound-
Surely the mind of Man is closely bound
In some black spell; seeing that each one tears
Himself from fireside joys and Lydian airs,
And converse high of those with glory crown'd-
Stll, still they toll , and l should feel a damp,-
Achill as froma tomb, did I not know
That they are dying like an outburnt lamp;
That 'tis their sighing, wailing ere they go
Into oblivion; that fresh flowes will grow,
And many glories of immortal stamp-

KEATS DEATH MASK

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